Invisible Worlds with Nicholas Omiccioli

Two of the works receiving their UK premiere in our upcoming Transatlantic Collaborations concerts with the ECCE Ensemble were chosen through an open call for scores which drew in more than 100 applicants world-wide.  I recently had the pleasure to chat with Nicholas Omiccioli, one of the selected composers.

Nicholas!  Thank you very much for being with us and for your fantastic entry into our Call For Scores, Invisible Worlds.  We’re really looking forward to performing the piece at our upcoming concert.

Thanks for selecting my work! It means a lot to me, I can only imagine how hard of a decision it must have been. Having been on the other side of a call for scores, it is an eye opening experience to see how many great composers there are out there doing interesting things. It really is an honor that you chose Invisible Worlds. The opportunity to work with Riot and ECCE is really exciting, I am looking forward to hearing the results!

The opening page of ‘Invisible Worlds’

I believe this performance will be your UK premiere, so much of our audience will know very little about your work and your context – you literally live ‘in Kansas’ (City), could you tell us a bit about the contemporary music scene there?

Where I live causes quite a bit of confusion. Kansas City is actually on the Missouri side – where I currently live and just finished up with school. The contemporary music scene is much to be desired for what I do, which involves acoustic composition for various chamber ensemble configurations. While we have very talented performers in the area, especially some of my classmates, we only have one professional new music ensemble (newEar). I frequently travel outside the city for performances of my music. While Kansas City may not be a new music hub, it is a great place to live with a rich history. In fact, there are quite a number of established and emerging composers in the area such as Chen Yi, Zhou Long, James Mobberley, and Narong Prangcharoen, among others.

Have you had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens)?

I am always on the lookout for new things and certainly my travels have opened some pretty big doors. It’s funny you mention Jeux, because that was a very powerful piece for me when I first heard it. Lutoslawski’s music really changed the way I think about harmony, texture, and counterpoint. In fact, I have adopted a similar system to Lutoslawski regarding vertical construction combined with my interest in non-octave repeating scales.

Invisible Worlds is performed in the dark, with a few stand lights for the players.  This seems obviously connected to the title/creative impulse for the work? 

The piece is inspired by the eternal darkness of the deep ocean. The only light that is visible is produced by the life that inhabits those depths through a process called bioluminescence. Therefore, the use of standlights in a dark hall not only has practical reasons, but also represents the the scarcity of light in a neverending sea of nothingness. We actually know more about the surface of he moon than ocean floor.

An example of bioluminescence

Are extra-musical/theatrical ideas important to your work as a composer

This is the first piece I have written where I have consciously thought about extra-musical/theatrical ideas. Since I primarily write chamber music, I always like to keep in mind the on-stage interaction between the performers. For me, the intimate quality of this genre what I find so appealing and it is also the reason I wrote this piece without meter or barlines. Not only did I want to reinforce the endless bounds and vastness of the ocean through notation, but I also wanted to force the performers to engage in a dialogue through visually cueing and playing off one another. This is a reaction to many concerts I have been to where the performers are so buried in their music that an element of communication is lost. With the concert hall dark, the stand lights focus the audiences attention to every physical nuance of the performers.

Nicholas Omiccioli

One of the things I love about your music – is the fluid nature of what is driving the work.  At one moment it is clearly rhythm, then at another it’s clearly pitch or dynamics or so on.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you think of this dynamic in terms of form and structure?

While it is cliché and out of fashion to say that narrative is the primary driving force behind my works, I fully own up to this term and embrace it. I get really bored with mono-texture, so when I begin a new piece, I make a list of the various levels of interaction I think are appropriate to the work. Basically, it all starts with macro-structure. I spend a considerable amount of time planning the progression of the work, but I allow that process to be organic as I start filling in the micro-structure. This, I believe, leads to the fluidity that you mention. Very rarely for me does the action stop in a piece, everything is connected and flows from one texture to another. This is probably the reason I stray from multi-movement works.

What’s coming up for you in the coming months?

Currently, I am at the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado until mid-August. I am one of ten composers to recieve a fellowship and commission for a new work to be performed by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. I will also have a reading of an orchestral work while I am here. When I return to Kansas City, I plan to record a collection of chamber works for a CD that I will release on my website. All the players involved were at one point or another classmates of mine at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. I am really looking forward to working with them all again.

 Thanks so much for your time Nicholas, and we’ll be looking forward to much more of your music!